After 104 years of fascinating and often turbulent years, Georg Heinrich Patrick Baron von Tiesenhausen passed away in his sleep in the early hours of 4 June. Von Tiesenhausen was born and raised in Riga, Latvia, and after World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, he and his family escaped and moved to Hamburg, Bergedorf, Germany. When he was drafted into military service in 1938, he served in the German Luftwaffe in communications, and, through a stroke of good fortune, which saved his life, he was called back from the Russian Front in 1942, to finish his engineering education at the Ingenieurschule Hamburg, from which he graduated in 1943, being assigned immediately to the Peenemünde rocket development center. For him the war ended in an American concentration camp, from which he was released in the latter part of 1945. While at the camp, he found work at a garage, repairing Mack Trucks, being “paid” in food by the cook. At the camp, prisoners received only two saltine crackers per day for food. He smuggled this food into the camp and was able to share it with six other prisoners, thus saving them from starvation. After the war, he eventually got a job at Hatlapa, a company that made winches for ships.
In 1953, upon the request by Dr. Wernher von Braun, von Tiesenhausen emigrated with his family to the U.S. to begin work on rocketry at Redstone Arsenal at ABMA, and later, in 1960, he joined the team at the newly founded NASA to build space crafts. His area of expertise included test stands and payloads. For example, his invention of the clamps that hold down the Saturn V rocket while the engines are pushed to full power for three seconds, and release them simultaneously in one tenth of a second earned him his first patent. He based the concept on the canter lever action of the top of a German beer bottle – a true German. Already in 1963, von Tiesenhausen was in charge of the mobility systems on the lunar surface, which resulted in his design of the Lunar Rover. Nothing surprised him more than the fact that pretty much all of the components of his original design found their way into the final product. Von Tiesenhausen worked for NASA for 33 years, wrote numerous technical articles and earned six patents. He retired from NASA in 1986, turning to a volunteer lecturing career at the Alabama Space and Rocket Center for twenty four years, where he was well known for his dozens and dozens of transparencies for the Space Camp students. He always worked in his hobby, and he maintained that he actually did not really work at all because he always had so much fun. On February 3, 2011, von Tiesenhausen received a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Neil Armstrong.
Aside from his engineering skills, von Tiesenhausen also served as organist for Holy Spirit Catholic Church; he composed music, specifically a version of the “Our Father,” which Cecelia Talley will perform at the funeral ceremony. He also wrote numerous unpublished essays and articles just for fun. He began writing extensively, first, his memoirs and then, collections of archival events of other family members. At the end, he was working on an essay about the Big Bang, as well as on an Easter Mass composition.
Von Tiesenhausen is survived by Asta, his beloved wife of 75 years; his three children, Evamaria Belt (Mert), Georg von Tiesenhausen, Jr. (Ardelle, M.), and Jutta von Tiesenhausen (Leroy Hush); 9 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, and 2 great great grandchildren.
Dates and times for the funeral are as follows: Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., on Wednesday, 13 June 2018, at Spry Funeral Home, 2411 Memorial Pkwy N.W., Huntsville, AL. The Eucharist funeral service will take place at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity on 208 Eustis Avenue, Huntsville, AL. at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 14 June 2018. Interment will follow immediately at Maple Hill Cemetery, culminating with a reception at Ridley Hall at the church.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Space Camp in Huntsville.
U.S. Space and Rocket Center Space Camp in Huntsville
One Tranquility Base, Huntsville AL 35805